In a sleek classroom at Austin Community College’s newest campus, some students and instructors are taking a decidedly old-school approach to studying history’s great thinkers and authors.
They are part of the Great Questions Seminars, a series of four eight-week sessions held at Highland Campus that use a Socratic approach to delve into the writings of Homer, Euclid, W. E. B. DuBois, Jane Austen, and others.
“It’s the sort of college experience people have had for centuries,” says Government Professor Ted Hadzi-Antich Jr., who organized the series and serves as a faculty guide for the seminars. “We’re trying something new that’s also remarkably old.”
Great Questions scholars, all new to college, attend weekly discussions on assigned readings and complete one writing assignment per seminar. Those who complete all four seminars and meet attendance and lesson requirements earn a “Great Questions Scholar” designation on their transcript and a $500 ACC scholarship. They also are eligible to apply for a $2,000 International Programs scholarship.
Chenetta Engelmann, a seminar participant studying business administration, says the opportunity to examine the theologies and philosophies of the writings appealed to her.
“I was fascinated by the prospective challenge, and having to think of things in a deeper manner,” she says. Her favorite part of the class has been listening to others’ perspectives on the books and seeing how they connect with them in their own ways.
Hadzi-Antich says having participants drive seminar discussions is key to the learning method. In contrast to the “sage on the stage” approach, faculty guides are not subject experts: He and Mathematics Professor Juan Molina were guides for a study of Homer’s Odyssey; Developmental Writing Professor Dr. Bill Martin co-leads the current seminar exploring the Greek mathematician Euclid and Plato’s Meno.
“Everyone in the room is experiencing something new,” Hadzi-Antich says. He adds that students benefit when they see faculty deal with foreign and challenging material, which emphasizes learning as a life-long pursuit and one of its greatest pleasures.
The seminars are not limited to students in a particular major; current participants plan to pursue nursing, video game development, and business. Participants must meet certain academic standards and submit an essay to be considered for the class, which is capped at 15 students.
While the current seminar is designed for first-year students, Hadzi-Antich envisions seminars for other student populations, such as those who have been out of college for a while or adult learners. He also is considering ways to keep participants engaged once the series ends, whether it’s serving as mentors to future seminar students or creating seminar “alumni” study groups.
“The goal is to have this first-year experience pave the way to do wonderful things at ACC,” he says.
Visit the Great Questions Seminars webpage to learn more about the current series. Information about future seminars will be posted in the spring.
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